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Hip-Hop Fridays: Learning The Lessons Of Rap Feuds


No matter how many of us in the Hip-Hop community and industry would like to portray most of our problems as external, there really is no intelligent way to deny the fact that we bring much of our problems on ourselves. This week's controversy over the beef between Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown is just the latest example of this sad reality.

We will leave the details of who fired what shots at whom for others to deal with. But the main point that must be dealt with is how Hip-Hop artists continue to use poor judgment and create the atmosphere for disagreements and disputes to spiral into violence or for others - mainly the media - to connect violence that happens in the street back to the Hip-Hop community and industry.

With each passing day, I look back on the biggest rap quarrels of the 1980s between Boogie Down Productions and the Juice Crew and between UTFO and Roxanne Shante with more and more respect. I look back at the disagreement between KRS-One and X-Clan in the early 1990s and even the beef a few years ago between Canibus and L.L. Cool J. with a sense of appreciation, recognizing that all parties involved made it a priority to keep their aggression and disagreements with one another in an artistic vein.

For years, in Hip-Hop there have always been MC battles, where one artist or a group of artists compare styles and compete with one another on the basis of lyrical skills. There have been similar competitions between graffiti artists, Dee Jay's and those who break dance. That has always been a part of Hip-Hop culture. Many times it has been healthy - raising the level of artistic quality as competition often does.

However, by the 1990s the tone of these battles and disagreements became very personal and much more graphic in language with the problems that developed between Bad Boy and Death Row.

While no one really believed that the two parties would ever actually go to war with one another, the language and public and private animosity that both camps displayed for one another did create an atmosphere for others, who had no respect for Hip-Hop or little knowledge of it, to interpret the words and actions of Bad Boy and Death Row literally.

Eventually both camps fed into the media-hype and there were some very tense encounters between artists and representatives from both camps at a few public industry-related events.

Everyone knew that the disagreement between the parties had gone way beyond battling on wax. They had taken a private dispute public through print, television and radio interviews and well beyond the realm of the dis record. All of what they did took their personal problems out of the Hip-Hop community, where others had a field day with it.

And sadly, before any leaders from the Black and Hip-Hop community could mediate reconciliation, both Tupac and Biggie were dead - though we are convinced for reasons not related to their feud.

In many respects as Hip-Hop has become more commercially successful it seems that artists have moved further away from the guidance of those in the community from which they were raised. They have lost contact with those who could serve as peacemakers and counselors in times of dispute. And maybe those same leaders have moved away from Hip-Hop artists.

I can remember the beef in the early 1990s between Posse Deep and Q-Tip of a Tribe Called Quest that turned violent but thankfully, with the help of community leaders and the Nation Of Islam in New York, the conflict came to a peaceful resolution.

I have heard Lil' Kim dis Foxy Brown on more than one recording and I have heard the cut "Bang, Bang" on the Capone-N-Noreaga album that police are working to connect with the shooting that occurred last week.

I can remember last November when I first heard "Bang Bang" my first reaction was not that this song was going to be the basis of violence in the future. I certainly knew that Foxy Brown was referring to Lil' Kim but I did not think that her comments were an effort to escalate the problems between her and Kim to the level of gunshots and I still do not believe that to be the case today.

However, I do believe that when artists exchange verbal assaults on records that there are members of their immediate entourage who may feel the need to carry, publicly, the attitude of the artist they represent, work for, or are close to. I have seen that happen on numerous occasions.

Like most disputes between two powerful figures, very rarely do you see the principals mix it up. Usually it is the underlings or representatives of two "opposing" artists who end up in an argument or fight.

And that is a major problem in Hip-Hop. The need to not be viewed as soft or as "being punked" trumps common sense far too often. This bravado, in part, is why so many artists have personal security and carry weapons. It is getting increasingly more difficult to tell when art ends and reality begins. And with so many artists dying violent deaths it is becoming second nature for law enforcement and the mainstream media to look for the genesis of a violent act, which affects a member of the Hip-Hop community, in a music recording.

Such scrutiny from outsiders is always unwelcome and many in the industry and community become defensive under the spotlight of external forces, but maybe the time has come for the Hip-Hop community to examine itself as well as the recordings of its artists and think about when artists are crossing the line in their attacks on one another and how such recordings could be used down the road in a manner that hurts everybody in Hip-Hop, even the two artists that are having a dispute.

At a certain point, an artist should consider how their creative works may have a destructive effect on the art form and culture that they represent.

I remember a friend of mine, who worked for Bad Boy at the time, telling me how Biggie had actually recorded a couple of songs which said some very derogatory things about Tupac. These songs were in response to some very negative comments Tupac had made about Biggie on wax and in interviews. But Bad Boy decided not to put the tracks on Biggie's second album, not desiring to further the controversy, which had already been blown out of proportion.

I thought that was a responsible thing to do and demonstrated the positive role that an artist's personal managers and business partners can play in the career and life of an artist who often thinks that free speech makes anything they say OK.

But today, too many artists have yes-men and yes-women who surround them - not to guide or advise them properly but to get a paycheck, some fame of their own and personal gratification through a variety of means…

While artists are not to blame for the violent acts of others who may be around them, they certainly can do more to help create an atmosphere where violent acts do not take place and where it is not so easy for those outside of the Hip-hop community to "connect the dots" between a violent recording and a violent act.

Hopefully, one day soon artists will accept this responsibility.


Cedric Muhammad

Friday, March 2, 2001

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